Delegation is identified as one of Matter’s top soft skills that is linked to performance and career success. Contrary to popular belief, soft skills like delegation can also be learned and developed just like any hard skills. Matter helps professionals tease out blindspots and areas for growth in skills like delegation through regular peer-to-peer feedback.

What Is Delegation

Definition of Delegation: Assigns manageable tasks, responsibilities, and authority to others appropriately.

Learning how to delegate is one of the most challenging skills for leaders to develop. Leaders are often used to relying only on themselves and their efforts to get things done. However, it is an essential aspect of leadership to recognize the skills in those you lead and empower them to take ownership.

Great Delegators You May Know

Warren Buffett: When describing Buffett, biographer Roger Lowenstein said, “He picked the chorus line, but didn’t attempt to dance.” His hands-off delegation style has allowed businesses of all types the space to work their magic and make their mark, and that freedom is a big reason why they work with Berkshire Hathaway. At the same time, Buffett has enabled himself to spend significant time every day to work on his own knowledge and skills.

Renee Bemis: Driftless Glen Distillery, a prominent whisky maker, owes a huge part of its success to transparent business practices and workflows. Teams are encouraged to delegate and distribute the workload, thus leading to collaboration and higher team performance. Bemis, Driftless’ CEO, has said in an interview, “We’re transparent in front of the entire team: who’s working on what, when is it due, what issues are they having? It makes everyone want to do better at their jobs.”

Andy Rachleff: After taking the helm of online investment firm WealthFront, initial business strategies faltered. Instead of taking the problem on entirely by himself, Rachleff adopted a “less DIY, more delegation” approach that allowed his team to solve problems in a more agile way. As a result, WealthFront was able to shore up its challenges and raise $20 Million in VC funding in 2013.

Why Delegation Is Important

  • Ownership: Delegating tasks to your team shows that you respect them and trust in their abilities to get things accomplished. This, in turn, fosters a culture of ownership and teamwork.
  • Innovation: When your team feels ownership over their work and empowered to make decisions, they are more likely to share ideas and feedback freely.
  • Scaling: Leaders know that success is part strategy and part people (execution). Scaling is not a one-person show. Knowing how to delegate responsibilities and authority to others is the key to business success and scaling.

What Delegation Isn’t About

  • Micromanaging: The most difficult part of delegation is the idea of giving up control. Once you’ve delegated responsibilities, trust that your team will have the ability to tackle them and follow up with you once they’re done. Nobody appreciates a helicopter leader.
  • Taking The Credit: When your team hits a homerun, don’t steal their thunder. Instead, make sure that credit is given to all who contributed to the win. Taking personal credit for your team’s accomplishment will lead to resentment and lower morale.
  • Doing Less Work: Delegating is never about doing less work. In reality, delegation is about empowering your team and sharing responsibilities so that you as a leader can personally tackle more impactful projects that require your personal attention.

Abilities That Lead To The Mastery of Delegation

Checking-in: Check-ins are useful to ensure that everything is on track and can head off potential problems. Establish agreed-upon check-in times. These can be as simple as a 15-minute meeting with those working on the delegated work.

Clarifying constraints: Spend time identifying possible constraints with those working on the delegated tasks. The idea is not leaving any room for confusion and set people up to make progress without needing frequent approvals which will slow the work down and make people feel micromanaged.

Confirming shared understanding: One of the most common mistakes made in delegating is assuming that employees understand what is expected. You should ask probing questions to make sure people understand all aspects of what’s required.

Defining what done means: Take the time to discuss the work with those involved and agree upon what must be done. The more time you take to discuss and agree upon the end result or objective, and achieve absolute clarity, the faster the job will be done once the person begins. What you define as done needs to be clearly measurable and not subject to interpretation.

Delegating the entire job: You should strive to delegate 100% of the work. You want people to feel empowered as great leaders will reject being micromanaged.

Delegating with discussion: Invite questions and be open to suggestions. There is a direct relationship between how much people are invited to talk about the job and how much they understand it, accept it, and become committed to it. You need to delegate in such a way that people walk away feeling, ‘‘This is mine; I own it; I’m going to do a great job.’’

Focusing on outcomes, not process: There are many different ways to achieve the same goal. The person you delegate to will likely approach the work differently than you would. A great delegator needs to embrace this discomfort. You should trust that you picked the right person for the work and set the person up for success by clearly defining goals and constraints.

Managing by exception: Managing by exception is a powerful time management tool that you can use to work more efficiently with other people. If the work is on track, and on schedule, managing by exception means that the person does not have to report back to you. If you don’t hear anything, you can assume that everything is going well.

Trusting people: Trusting people will result in a more collaborative and productive company. Without trust, your company will be unlikely to retain top talent as they will reject being in a company where they are micromanaged. Workers who feel trusted are more likely to take their tasks seriously and do the best work of their lives.

Explore Roles That Benefit From Delegation

Who can benefit from practicing delegation? Matter is helping professionals at all levels get actionable feedback to improve their delegation.

  • CEOs who are looking to become better leaders and cultivate company culture
  • Designers who want to grow their professional and soft skills
  • Freelancers who work without a traditional team and want feedback
  • Project Managers looking to improve their cross-functional collaboration skills
  • Software Engineers who aspire to become a tech lead or manager

Explore Complementary Skills to Delegation

Delegation shouldn’t be practiced in a vacuum. Improve your delegation by exploring and developing these complementary skills.

  • Candor: Communicates in a truthful and in a straightforward manner
  • Empathy: Possesses the ability to connect with other people’s thoughts and emotions
  • Hiring: Convinces talented people to join your team and/or company
  • Project Management: Leads a team project from inception to completion
  • Vision: Possesses innovative ideas about how things can be vastly improved in the future

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